Cambodian women are speaking up for their rights; it’s time we listen

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, CCHR looks at the Cambodian women who are challenging gender norms by fighting for their rights

In every facet of society, women across the world continue to possess fewer advantages while enduring greater threats to their safety and well-being. The abuse of women’s rights is considered by some as the concern of women, and women alone. This is not a ‘women’s issue’, it is a human rights issue.[1] In Cambodia, the simple act of a woman speaking out can be seen as defiant and abhorrent. Nevertheless, brave female activists are raising their voices amidst ongoing attempts from the authorities to silence them. As people held flash-mobs to raise awareness of women’s rights ahead of International Women’s Day, events planned by civil society groups to encourage and empower women in prison had to be cancelled due to new restrictions.

“Women continue to face discrimination based on negative social expectations and stereotypes”

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Cambodians stand together in solidarity for Human Rights Day 2014

Human Rights Day 2014 celebrations outside the National AssemblyToday, 10 December, marks International Human Rights Day (“IHRD”). Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1950, IHRD aims to bring the world’s attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”[1] However, despite the dramatic improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation since the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s, human rights violations remain a serious problem in Cambodian society, with those from poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. IHRD is an important moment for the human rights community in Cambodia to raise their concerns, and over the last few days human rights defenders (“HRDs”), monks, activists and civil society groups marched from across the country to Phnom Penh. They gathered outside the National Assembly this morning to call for, among other things, improved labour rights, land rights, and the release of imprisoned fellow activists.

Yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launched an exhibition entitled, “Where is My Justice?”, which highlights Cambodia’s deeply rooted culture of impunity and shares the experiences of victims of human rights violations. Impunity affects a wide range of people in Cambodia, from demonstrators subjected to excessive use of force by the police and judicial harassment, to people forcibly evicted from their homes in illegal land grabs or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community who face discrimination and attacks; all have failed to receive justice for crimes committed against them. Continue reading

Global movement for an end to impunity has emerged

blogCambodians are not alone in their fight against impunity and injustice; a global movement for an end to impunity has emerged.

Today, 23 November 2014, marks the fifth anniversary of the world’s largest single attack on journalists – the Maguindanao or Ampatuan massacre – in which 32 journalists were killed in the Philippines. To date, no one has been held accountable for the killings, and this is not the only case. It has therefore become an international day of action to end impunity. Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is a global issue. In the past 10 years, over 700 journalists have been killed globally, and according to UNESCO approximately 90% of these murders have been met with impunity. However, the world has not been silent, and powerful campaigns are placing pressure on governments around the world to take action to end impunity.

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Corporate Social Responsibility is about more than ad hoc charitable acts; it’s about human rights.

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Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) is a relatively modern term, first coined by American economist Howard Bowen in 1953, in a book entitled Social Responsibility of Businessmen. Bowen considered the roles and responsibilities of businesses in society, and posed the question: What responsibilities to society may business people reasonably be expected to assume? The development and recognition of the concept has spread globally since then.

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On the anniversary of the SL Garment Factory protests, a victim’s family share their story

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Upon arriving at a street food stall in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, Ms. Vong Vorleak, a 24-year old young woman was finishing her noodles on a small plastic chair. She had just completed a busy morning of selling rice to customers.

A year ago today Vorleak’s mother, 49 year-old Mrs. Eng Sokhom, was selling rice in the very same stall. As she attempted to conduct business as usual, workers from the SL garment factory were protesting for increased wages in front of her stall. Violence erupted and security forces responded to the protestors with excessive force. They indiscriminately fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and finally, live rounds of ammunition into the crowds. As Mrs. Sokhom attempted to cover her goods, she was shot in the chest and killed. She was an innocent bystander who left behind a son, a daughter and a husband, yet justice has not been delivered for her death.

When Vorleak finished eating she moved her small plastic stool into the back section of the stall, and began quietly relaying her story.

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Take a Stance Against Impunity: CCHR Launches Campaign to End Impunity

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Today, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launches its annual End Impunity Campaign, marking the United Nations’ first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. CCHR is highlighting the rampant nature of impunity in Cambodia, and calling on people across Cambodia and the world to take a stance against it. To show the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) the widespread public support for ending impunity, throughout November, we are collecting photos of individuals holding signs pledging to take a stance against impunity. These photos will be printed onto a giant poster and delivered to the Ministry of Justice on 2 December 2014, to push the RGC to take action.

Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is rampant in Cambodia. Often, those who violate human rights are well-connected individuals, who go unpunished as a result of their status. Incidents of impunity vary from murder cases of human rights activists and journalists that are never investigated, to cases where security forces have used excessive violence against civilians and remain unpunished, to well-connected officials evading justice.

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White Building Residents Face an Uncertain Future

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In early September 2014, it was declared that the White Building, home to approximately 2,500 inhabitants, would be demolished as it is structurally unsound and a threat to its inhabitants. The building was created in 1963 by the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk to provide low-cost housing for Phnom Penh’s growing population, and was a symbol of social security. Today its residents are faced by substantial insecurities and potentially forced evictions.

The White Building was designed by architects Lu Ban Hap and Vladimir Bodiansky, and has a total of 468 apartments. It is considered a prime example of the New Khmer architectural movement, which was underpinned by the famous architect Vann Molyvann. Molyvann is well-known for many notable structures, including the Independence Monument, the Council of Ministers, and the State Palace.

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Cambodian criminal justice system ignores children’s rights

Yesterday, CCHR released a Briefing Note that addresses the situation of Children in the Cambodian criminal justice systemOf the total of 2,258 monitored trials by CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project between August 2009 and June 2012, 219 involved juveniles. Children require rights that offer them special care and protection, including when they are accused of infringing the law, as their needs differ to those of adults. They are therefore entitled to protections beyond those that adults are entitled to. However, the findings of the Briefing Note suggest that juvenile justice rights are largely ignored within Cambodia’s judicial system.

Juvenile detentionFor example, judges can impose a criminal penalty on juveniles as young as 14, despite the age of criminal responsibility being 18 in Cambodia. Criminal penalties are imposed on up to 50% of children charged with a felony, and they are therefore given the same criminal responsibility as an adult, meaning that their rights as a child are disregarded.

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Losing the Spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement

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Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements (the “Agreements”), which were signed 12 years after the Khmer Rouge regime had fallen, and in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Through the establishment of the United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia (“UNTAC”) and the adoption of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (the “Constitution”), the Agreements sought to establish peace, “free and fair elections” and a liberal democratic system based on pluralism.

Despite major improvements in social legislation and political representation in Cambodia since 1991, 23 years later the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) seems to have largely forgotten the spirit of the Agreements. Article 3 of the Agreements stipulated, “Cambodia undertakes to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

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Banks, Human Rights and the Equator Principles

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In January 2014 the press in Cambodia and Australia released a number of articles concerning the role of the ANZ Royal Bank in financing the activities of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company (“PPS”), which owns and operates a highly controversial sugar plantation and refinery in Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia. In February 2010, PPS began illegally seizing and bulldozing farm and residential land belonging to more than 1,500 families in the Thpong and Oral districts in the Kampong Spue province. An estimated 100 families in Pis and Plourch villages were forcibly evicted from their homes. As a result the families are faced with food insecurity, job insecurity and homelessness and many had to pull their children out from school to work for PPS as it was the only source of income available. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (“ANZ”) is a major controlling entity of ANZ Royal Bank and one of the signatories to the Equator Principles (“EPs). Many consider that ANZ acted contrary to the guidelines contained in the EPs thereby facilitating the human rights abuses committed by PPS.

Put simply the EPs are a set of guidelines developed by major financial institutions (over 80 major financial institutions in 34 countries) in 2003 and revised in June 2013 (EP III) which aim to assist them in making better lending decisions in regards to the environment and society. The aim of the EPs is to put checks and balances in place so that financiers can refuse to finance projects, which could negatively impact human rights and the environment.

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